They have variously been named the “Homeland” generation, the “Re-generation” and the “Centennial” generation – but at the moment, we know them best (and rather lazily) as Generation Z. In the US, this generation is often held to have been born from 1995 onwards. However, Neil Howe, joint author of “Generations” and “The Fourth Turning”, the original academic works on Generational Theory, believes first were not born until the early 2000s. This latter seems more in line with the usual 20 year generational cycle and tends to be our thinking here at TomorrowToday – but it’s not an exact science, and there will be a blurred boundary on the cusp with Gen Y, wherever it falls.
Whatever the exact dates, within a few short years, this generation will be reaching the workplace for the first time. So what do we know of them – and what can we do to prepare?
The defining experience of this generation is its upbringing during the Great Recession. This is likely to make them quite conservative and conformist, because what they crave is security. They may therefore be more inclined to work for a big corporation than members of Gen Y, who are too busy following their ‘passion’ to think of their future. When choosing their career path, which many of them are doing now, this generation may be more pragmatic and inclined to choose ‘safe’ than their entrepreneurial Gen Y predecessors. They may not be particularly materialistic, as they will have learnt from their recession-hit parents that possessions aren’t everything – but they may have to repay student debt, which will also propel them towards careers that generate a steady income. However, with the workplace increasingly adapting to more fluid workforces, they may still have to accept many company and career changes in their working life – although they will be expecting this and will plan for it. It’s unlikely to phase them, as they will be expert multi-taskers and will already have a childhood of varied experiences behind them.
In “How to Think Like the Next Generation”, Penelope Trunk identifies another interesting trait of Generation Z. Because technology and connectivity have been present for them since they were able to play on mummy’s smartphone for the first time, it holds no mystique or novelty value. It simply is. It’s likely that this generation will be far less obsessed with pushing the boundaries of what can be done with technology and rather simply treat it as a tool. Just take a look at the 80s-looking graphics on Minecraft to understand that fancy stuff is not their technology driver! This may make life simpler for businesses to adapt their IT to ‘bring your own’, rather than trying to keep up with Gen Y’s constant need to be ahead of the game.
The Curve Report identifies 5 main factors in “The Z Factor” that it believes will define Generation Z:
The Least Connected Generation, Ever
Despite being technologically hyper-connected, Zs will have far less in common with their peers and neighbours than members of previous generations did (and consequently will have a harder time finding others “like them.”
XXX Ideals (Xposure, Xperience, Xpertise)
Zs are largely (although not exclusively) the children of Generation X, a cohort defined by its independence. They will be encouraging their children to try out new experiences and emphasise depth of knowledge over exam grades and degree choice. Remember, Generation X is now watching the accomplished and well-educated Gen Y struggle to find work and build their lives.
Double Vision and Photographic Memories
As the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent, Zs will develop double vision and “see” a digital layer in all they encounter.
Generation Z’s have been born into an environment where dads are truly hands on, where it’s cool for guys to bake and where girls playing football is old news. Gender difference will still exist of course, but there will be far more opportunities and far less judgement.
One in three children born today are expected to live to 100 – and many could reach 120. Generation Z will have to plan for this – and it may mean that they have more time for all aspects of their life. Education, leaving home, settling down – what’s the hurry?
As businesses, we can expect to see a far more self-aware population of young people with an unprecedented understanding of their skills and talents and a pragmatic approach to career, life and technology. Sounds great, but we can be sure there will be challenges ahead and some interesting clashes with Gen Y bosses!
What do you think? If you have young children, what do you see in them that will shape them as future employees (and employers)?